Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Manhattan Criminal...

Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Manhattan Criminal Court last week. Credit: AP/Michael M. Santiago

Closing arguments in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are slated to begin Tuesday, the final chance prosecutors and the defense will have to present their opposing narratives to sway the jury tasked with deciding the former president's fate.

Manhattan prosecutors, through some 20 witnesses called to testify against Trump over the last month, have tried to prove that Trump — the first president or ex-president to go on trial on criminal charges — is guilty of falsifying business records to conceal reimbursement payments he made to his personal attorney Michael Cohen, a Lawrence native.

Trump, the GOP's presumptive presidential candidate for 2024, had allegedly directed Cohen to pay $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep their affair secret and therefore safeguard his chances at winning the 2016 presidential election, prosecutors have said.

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels testifies on the witness stand...

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels testifies on the witness stand at Donald Trump's hush money trial in Manhattan Criminal Court on May 9. Credit: AP/Elizabeth Williams

Trump's lawyers have argued that prosecutors only have the word of Cohen — a convicted perjurer and admitted serial liar — on which to hang their case. Also, Trump's lawyers charge, the recording of the payments to Cohen as “legal services” was accurate. Pursuing Trump, they have argued, smacks of politics. And the prosecution's theory that Trump broke state election law? That's just how democracy works — candidates attempt to positively influence the electorate. Trump has also denied the affair.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Closing arguments in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin Tuesday.
  • Trump allegedly directed his then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to pay $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep their affair secret before the 2016 presidential election.
  • Trump's lawyers have argued that prosecutors only have the word of Cohen — a convicted perjurer and admitted serial liar — on which to hang their case.

Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records as part of what prosecutors argue was a ''catch and kill strategy" to buy negative stories and bury them. Daniels testified as a prosecution witness, giving explicit details of the sexual encounter she allegedly had with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, in 2006.

The charges have been upgraded to felony-level crimes because Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg argued they were part of a conspiracy to cover up another crime — conspiracy to promote an election by unlawful means.

Two months after Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015, according to testimony from David Pecker, the former chairman and publisher of American Media Inc. — the parent company of the National Enquirer — he was summoned by Cohen for a meeting at Trump Tower.

“At that meeting Donald Trump and Cohen, they asked me what I can do and what my magazines can do to help the campaign,” Pecker testified. “I said what I would do is I would run or publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponents. I also said that 'I would be your eyes and ears.' I said that anything that I hear in the marketplace, if I hear anything negative about yourself or if I hear anything about selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen.”

That was the birth of what prosecutors alleged in their opening statement to the jury was a “criminal conspiracy” between the three men, in which Pecker and his top editor would alert Cohen to negative stories about Trump that were pitched to the supermarket tabloid by celebrity publicists and lawyers.

In three instances, according to prosecutors, Trump paid to silence those making accusations against him, including Daniels.

Trump, described as penny-pinching during the trial, was moved to open his wallet in order to save his prospects of winning the 2016 presidential election, according to prosecutors.

It was in early October 2016 — about a month before Election Day — when The Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood” video of Trump bragging about grabbing women by their genitals.

“When you're a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on the recording, a transcript of which was provided to the jury.

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to...

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan Criminal Court on May 20. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

The release of the video was disastrous for the campaign, testified Hope Hicks, a former Trump campaign and White House aide, who also testified she didn't know Cohen to be charitable or selfless, but someone who “seeks” credit.

“This is a disaster,” Trump said in an October 2016 phone call with Cohen, according to Trump's former fixer. “This is a total disaster. Women will hate me. Guys will think it's cool but women will hate me. This is a total disaster for the campaign.”

Prosecutors also played for the jury a 2-minute, 31-second audio file of Cohen telling Trump about setting up a shell company to make the hush money payments.

“I need to open up the company for the transfer of all that info for our friend David. I'm going to do that right away. I’ve spoken to [Trump's then-chief financial officer] Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen told Trump.

“We'll pay cash,” the former president said on the recording.

Over days of cross-examination, Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche sought to discredit the Manhattan district attorney’s star witness by painting him as a serial liar and perjurer.

Cohen has served prison time after pleading guilty to various federal charges, including lying to Congress and a bank and engaging in campaign-finance violations related to the hush money scheme.

Blanche also attempted to paint Cohen as a man out for revenge against Trump, who didn't give him a plum job in the White House. Cohen admitted regularly denouncing Trump on social media and making millions of dollars in proceeds from books he's written about Trump.

Cohen also admitted, while under cross-examination, that he stole $30,000 from the Trump Organization when he was reimbursed $50,000 for payments to a computer services company called Red Finch.

The defense called Robert Costello, a former federal prosecutor, as a witness for its brief case, to contradict some of Cohen's claims. But Costello, a Nassau resident, was almost removed from the witness stand after he muttered “ridiculous” and “jeez” in a show of apparent annoyance with Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan's rulings.

Trump, despite saying multiple times he would testify, did not take the stand, as is his right as a criminal defendant.

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